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Connecting With My Voice: AI and Accessibility

By Henry Silva, AI developer

Since the rise of the Internet, digital inclusion and accessibility has been a concern. The number of people working and interacting with computers and other devices daily is rising — especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic — leading to renewed anxiety surrounding the ease and access of Internet navigation.

And while it is certainly a good thing that we are seeing a number of new technologies focused on helping people with disabilities, one question remains: will these tools be affordable and accessible for everyone? More specifically, will people from underrepresented communities be able to benefit from this rising market?

We talked in detail about computer vision and facial recognition before, but one thing we have yet to explore is the potential for AI to drastically improve the lives of people who suffer from eye diseases such as blindness and cataracts. AI systems are already being used successfully to help disabled individuals in their daily activities, like reading texts or taking pictures. Seeing AI, a cell phone app developed by Microsoft, provides disabled users with a vast number of useful tools to make their lives easier. Their AI can, for example, help blind users take pictures of restaurant receipts, and then read it out loud for them. The overall expectation is that there will be an increasing number of AI-based tools for disabled people in the future.

We have to remember that this is only the beginning. Scientists and researchers are predicting that computer vision will become a viable alternative for people with eye diseases. And as the technology develops, we may even see a cure.

A 2019 article published in Nature speaks to how bionic eyes — machines built to mimic the functioning of the human eye — could become a reality and change the way we deal with vision diseases. Technologies like these, which benefit from the improvement of AI, could help create a more accessible future for disabled individuals. These improvements would be of great help especially for people from underrepresented communities, which, according to the CDC, are more likely to suffer from disabilities and have limited access to health care compared to their white counterparts.

Advancements in AI-assisted accessibility could improve Internet usability for people living with disability — a way to increase their ability to participate more fully in society. Tragically, accessibility is a topic with very little visibility, which is exactly why it’s vital for us to inform ourselves and spread awareness about how AI can improve the lives of millions of disabled people.

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